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First time winner likely at PGA Championship

Mike Weir is this year's George Archer. Jim Furyk is this year's Orville Moody. Ben Curtis is this year's Tony Jacklin.

Who will be this year's Raymond Floyd?

Weir, Furyk and Curtis won this year's Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, respectively. It was the first major victory for each. If this week's PGA Championship victor is another first-time major winner, it will mark the first time since 1969 -- with Archer, Moody, Jacklin and Floyd -- that all four majors were won by first-timers.

History says the odds of the PGA being someone's major breakthrough are pretty good. In the 13 years since 1990, 10 players have made the PGA their first major, including the past two, 2002 champ Rich Beem and 2001 winner David Toms. The only years that didn't see a first-timer win the PGA were 1999 and 2000 (Tiger Woods) and 1994 (Nick Price).

Among current players 50 and younger who have won a major, more (13) made the PGA their first than did the U.S. Open (six), British Open (six) or Masters (eight).

What is it about the PGA that makes it more susceptible to first-time major winners?

Sitting at a dais Wednesday with "85th PGA Championship" signage in front of him and PGA of America logos behind, Beem chose his words carefully. "I hope this comes out right," he said.

What separates the PGA from the Masters and U.S. and British Opens, especially for relatively inexperienced players, Beem said, is that "there's not such a huge hype about it."

At the PGA, "the greens are not nearly as severe as they are at Augusta, but they are quick. The rough is not as brutal as a U.S. Open, but it's thick, and the British Open is just the British Open -- a great championship.

"Like I said, I don't want this to come out wrong because obviously as far as I'm concerned, (the PGA is) the greatest championship we've played, because it combines everything wonderful about the other three tournaments."

When Beem won the PGA last year at Hazeltine National, he was playing in his fifth major. But he was well into his fourth full year on Tour and had earned his first PGA Tour victory two weeks before, at The International.

Breakthrough major victories came at a different career stage for each of this year's three winners. Weir was 32 and in his fifth full year on Tour (with three wins already behind him) when he became the first left-hander to win the Masters. Furyk, who shares a birthday of May 12, 1970, with Weir, already was one of the steadiest players on Tour, with seven wins in nine seasons. Curtis, 26, never had even played in a major before he won at Royal St. George's. He earned his PGA Tour card at the 2002 qualifying school after spending two years on the Hooters Tour.

The perception has been that Woods' dominance has lessened major opportunities for those still seeking to break through. There is some truth to this. Of the 39 majors played between the 1990 Masters and the 1999 British Open, 22 were won by players with no previous majors.

In the 16 majors played since then, first-timers have been just as likely to win a major as Woods. In that stretch, Woods has seven wins, the same number as first-timers.

This doesn't necessarily have major-less players slobbering on the first tee, however.

"When Rich won last year at the PGA and Mike won at the Masters, my thought wasn't, 'Wow, here's my chance -- the guys that have already won majors are not playing well; the tide looks like it's turning," Furyk said.

Furyk, however, already was a proven player when he won at Olympia Fields. A major was the only thing missing from his résumé. What about young, inexperienced players?

"I think the reality of the game is now young players don't believe that they have to serve an apprenticeship to win a major," European Tour veteran Padraig Harrington said. "Most players now think that if they get in a situation, 'I'm going to take my chances just like anybody else and try and win.'

"Most players now don't believe that they have to lose a few before they win some."

For that, they have Curtis and his British Open victory to thank.

"I knew I could win majors; I just didn't think it would happen this soon," Curtis said. "I thought maybe as soon as I got 10 or 12 under my belt, that maybe once I got in contention a couple of times...

"I was surprised to win but at the same time, I wasn't."

Getting that first major victory boosts a golfer's confidence, but it doesn't supply it if it isn't there.

"Mentally it's an edge because I know I can do it rather than thinking I can do it," Furyk said. "If I didn't have that confidence in myself I would never have won the U.S. Open."


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